In an election campaign of personal ‘firsts’ may I crave your indulgence for just one more? Three weeks ago, I was being driven to my first cattle market by the leader of the Scottish Tories. It seemed then that no other encounter could be quite so esoteric.

“Hold my beer,” say the Grangemouth ‘Loo Crew’, a group of determined women who forced their local council into a U-turn on the u-bends. And so, here is my first-ever review of a public convenience.

“The men’s and women’s toilets situated at the far end of Grangemouth’s La Porte shopping centre, showcase the industrial heritage of the Clackmannanshire region. Built in 1970, the visitor is first drawn to the toilets’ robust stone livery: an eye-catching, though minimalist sarcophagus bearing hints of rococo. We’re not talking Gaudi’s sinewy concrete here but, all the same, they’re characterised by a pleasing brutalism which invites more detailed scrutiny.

“The spacious interior is suffused with natural light and the user is rewarded with pleasing views of the Ochils if he looks up through the slatted windows while taking care not to neglect the primary function which has beckoned him hither. An assortment of hand-picked, organic grooming products creates a rewarding ablutionary experience while supporting a gold standard in personal hygiene.”


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Yet, if the council panjandrums had had their way this vital facility would have gone the way of much else in a region showing the effects of political indifference and corporate vandalism. The council had insisted that maintaining these toilets cost around £25k per year and duly shut them in 2023. Then, a group of local volunteers and shop-owners embarked on the successful campaign that saw them re-opened this February.

June Ramage, who helps run a charity shop adjacent to the toilets, says it was more than simply about keeping them open. “We’ve established a community hub with the aim of re-vitalising the shopping centre,” she says. “This was once a thriving space but has suffered from the effects of unemployment and challenging economic circumstances. Shutting the toilets was one less reason for local people to come here.”

She references women who might come here with young children or who may be pregnant and for whom a clean and well-maintained public convenience is important. She and her team of volunteers - ‘The Loo Crew’ - supported by some local businesses, have now taken responsibility for their cost and upkeep.

I’d visited this shopping precinct last November, just a few days after the announcement that the Grangemouth oil refinery would cease operations from next year. In the intervening months it seems that Scotland’s main political parties have distanced themselves from any fight to keep it open or to mitigate the effects of closure on the local economy.

Once, this shopping centre had been visionary and handsome with dozens of local outlets gathered under a glass canopied roof, all of them smart in their dark brown livery. It’s still clean and well-kept and has extensive free parking but with each passing year there are fewer reasons to shop here.

Soon, you give up counting the boarded-up shop fronts and instead start listing the nail bars, fast-food emporiums, vaping outlets and beauty salons: the familiar, threadbare mosaic that unites many such places across Scotland and northern England. Among the locals there’s a sense that Scotland’s main political parties simply don’t want to know.

John NicolsonJohn Nicolson (Image: free)

This inertia mixed with ruthless profiteering by employers who pull down the shutters at the first signs of economic stress has bred cynicism among locals. Since the election was called, the voters in this Alloa & Grangemouth constituency are being told once more that they matter. It’s only at this time though, that many will get to see the distinctive plumage of that rare visitor: the lesser-spotted SNP politician.

Eva Comrie, who is standing in this constituency as an independent, is handing out leaflets in the shopping centre and getting a two-in-three hit rate. “People’s initial instinct is to walk past you and to refuse the offer of a leaflet,” she says. “But when you tell them that you’re standing as an independent many of them take an interest.

“They’re genuinely sickened and disillusioned about how little the SNP have done for this area and how both they and Scottish Labour have abandoned the struggle to save jobs at the oil refinery.”

Ms Comrie had been a lifelong independence supporter and a prominent SNP activist before she was compelled to join Alba owing to the attacks on feminists within the party, under Nicola Sturgeon. Internal divisions within Alba though, caused her to stand as an independent in this constituency. June Ramage tells me that normally she’d be voting for one of the main parties but is now “seriously considering” handing it to Eva Comrie.

Ms Comrie was born and raised here and is a well-known family and child lawyer, often dealing with cases involving some of Scotland’s most marginalised communities. She’s already more than halfway to reaching her funding target of £10,000 required for the leafleting, printing and advertising that comes with a six-week campaign.

It’s paltry compared to the richly-resourced national parties. It becomes evident as our morning proceeds though, that she possesses an attribute lacking in her opponents: a high recognition factor, stemming from her advocacy of many families in this area. Some of her most prominent opponents couldn’t find Grangemouth with a Satnav.

At the candidates’ debate, John Nicolson for the SNP had been asked what his party was doing to help the Grangemouth refinery workers. “He simply said that he’d met with John Swinney to discuss it,” said Ms Comrie, “but wouldn’t supply any specifics.”

The fate of the refinery was raised by Unite the Union this week when their General Secretary Sharon Graham called out the Scottish Government. John Swinney had claimed that Grangemouth was “absolutely fundamental” to the Scottish economy and that he wanted to work with Unite and the owners to “secure a future”.

Ms Graham said: “If they cannot allow damage to Scotland, why on earth has it taken the Scottish Government eight months to even talk about a plan to secure the future of the Grangemouth oil refinery and the jobs of people who work there?”


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Isobel, who works in the health sector, is another who’ll be voting for Ms Comrie. “Where I work, I see the effects of inequality every day. When services are cut it’s always the poorest who suffer the most. I shudder to think what this place will look like if the oil refinery is allowed to shut with no plans for the workers’ future.” She pledges her support for Ms Comrie, but only after being assured that she’s genuinely independent.

Ms Comrie despairs of the failure of the SNP or Labour to back the unions in their fight to save jobs at the Ineos plant. “Once, they would have fought this tooth and nail and not allowed it to disappear from public consciousness. There would have been a joint task force of some of our best negotiators to explore other options.

“Instead of their freeports, there should be a much more targeted plan to attract investment into disadvantaged areas, supplying long-term jobs with proper wages and a commitment to affordable and social housing.”

She laments the 50%-plus child poverty rates in some of these neighbourhoods. She says she has “enormous respect” for her former Alba colleague, Kenny MacAskill, who is also standing in this constituency. Surely though, by standing against him it improves the chances of Labour or John Nicolson?

“Look, it was always my dream to stand in this constituency and Alba knew that. And besides, Kenny could have stood in any number of other constituencies. Also, I aim to win this seat outright: I’m not just here to stage a protest.

“People know me here and they know what I stand for and how committed I am to Scottish independence and to changing the political priorities in Alloa and Grangemouth so that the local people and their needs come first. They know that if I win I won’t be disappearing.”

I’m getting on in years and so I must visit the gentleman’s convenience once more. The aloe vera is still there and what looks suspiciously like a face scrub sits intact beside the basins. In some of Glasgow’s edgier arrondissements these would be getting added to a day-time electric daiquiri by now. Here though, respect is breeding respect.